Ancestors – Holidays, Culture and Tradition

*disclaimer: I’m speaking from an American perspective

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
W. Somerset Maugham

I find in today’s society there is this sort of emptiness. Longing for meaning but finding none. Making everything meaningless, and something that can just be thrown away.

I came across this article.

Now to be frank, I’m not a fan. There is this sort of demeaning tone to that I’m not fond of, and I’m really not fond of the phrase “Cultural Appropriation”. It gets over used and not in the correct context. But it has a good point I want to touch on.

I’ve always had a fascination with Dia De Los Muertos, it’s always resonated with me and I absolutely adore Day of the Dead artwork especially sugar skulls. I haven’t really realized until recently why it resonated with me so much. I have no tradition in my own culture, in my own family that celebrates and remembers the dead. Or at least, not anymore. It has all been lost. It’s something that something deep inside of me, something ancient, yearns for. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Personally, I don’t know anyone who has any kind of real family traditions. I’m talking ones with real meaning. I know mine certainly doesn’t. In the early stages of this country there wasn’t just “white people”, you had Irish people, Germans, Polish, etc. Somewhere along the way where we came from didn’t matter anymore and we all became just white. Now this could be arguably a good thing considering the persecution certain people would get like the Irish. Mixing isn’t a bad thing, but we lost our culture in the process.

Now people are starting to reach out for something, something with meaning. Now it’s become a bad thing to be white, people who try to take pride in their culture, their tradition are thought to be racist. But you can’t touch another’s culture or it becomes “Cultural Appropriation”.

We are told that our tradition doesn’t matter. We find some tradition that interests us because it speaks to us on a deep level, that same voice comes in saying it doesn’t matter so it gets treated accordingly.

This is part of why I think Ancestor Veneration is so important. I think we need to look into the traditions of our ancestors to really be able to find meaning. Once we find meaning in our own, we will be able to see the meaning in the traditions of others.

Now let me clarify, sharing is a good thing. I think cultures should be shared, mingled even. It brings more color to this life and will help us understand each other that much more clearly. But not mingling so much that it loses meaning. That is all just becomes one thing.

The ancient traditions, the holidays, were gutted so much in the name of converting people to Christianity that they lost all meaning. It started before the United States was even created. Industries have now taken advantage of this so much that we have the shell of holidays we have now like Christmas and Halloween. They are big business holidays now, times for them to get us to spend as much money as possible.

I believe traditions like Day of the Dead should be shared but in a clear way, in an educated way. I believe that is the problem the author was getting at, not the fact that white people are sharing in the tradition but that they are turning it into a shell. They are paying no attention to its origins or its true meaning.

I understand where she is coming from in this aspect and I believe we should fight along side her. To keep other cultures from disappearing and becoming one with this homogenous blob. To become a shell of its former self with no meaning.

 In this fight we should work to find our own in the blob and pull it out, dust it off and bring meaning to it once again. Not to hold it tight to ourselves in that it can only be ours, but that we can take it and show the world. Share it with others that we too have meaning.

You will find me call it Halloween instead of Samhain like most pagans do, and that is deliberate. Unless you intend to celebrate it with at least some of the traditional aspect, I don’t feel it right to call it by the traditional name. Actually it is a bit disrespectful in my eyes. So while I am limited (living in the bible belt with my Christian parents) I will continue to call it Halloween. That will change once I am able to celebrate it in a modernized fashion of the way my Ancestors who rightfully called it Samhain or Winter Nights did.  If you call it Samhain but still celebrate it exactly as others celebrate Halloween then you are now draining what little meaning Samhain has left in our times.

As far as Halloween itself isn’t all bad and in the family sense has a bit of its own tradition. Kids dressing as their favorite super hero, princess or idol going out with their parents in a night of fun and candy. If you look at it closely it is a sort of family tradition. Still very commercialized, but kids being able to be kids and have fun is never a bad thing.

I think this all came out just a little jumbled but I hope the point is clear.

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Ancestors-Hel

No, not like the Christian hell.

Goddess-Hel
not how I see her but I do enjoy the sweetness of this picture

She is definitely one of the Goddesses that gets little attention, and when she does people tend to think of her as evil. Why? Because people think anything associated with death is evil, except Death is the absolute Neutral. Personally in pagan religions, I don’t really see “evil” as a thing (in reference to Gods, people can definitely be evil). There is light and dark. Both need to be worked with or there is no balance. But that’s getting off topic.

Hel (means Hidden in Old Norse), the Goddess of the dead, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, born in the Ironwood.

She is known as Hel, Hela, Halja, or (some say) Leikin (the name the Alfar call her, not sure on that one though). The Goddess to whom “all is seen”.

There isn’t much in the way of information about her in the lore. The most prominent story is that of her involvement in the story of Baldur’s death.

Following the death of Baldur, the goddess Frigga sends Hermóðr to offer Hel ransom. Hermóðr begs Hel to allow his brother to return home, because Baldur is so loved by the gods of the Æsir. Hel tells him only if all things in the world, alive or dead, weep for him, then he will be allowed to return to the Æsir. A female jotun refused so He stayed.

The prominence to this (though most only pay attention to the Loki part) is that even the Gods are not above Death.

She has the wolf Garm who resides in Gnipahellir, sometimes used interchangeably with Her brother Fenrir (which my belief is He doesn’t guard Helheim like Garm but does work with His sister), as one of the gaurds. The other being Modgud.

Garm is a new one to me. Most of what I see really equates him with Fenrir so I am pretty iffy about Him. They say to appease him you give him a piece of cake, but only after you have already given bread to the poor.

Modgud, called the Guardian Goddess, gaurds the bridge (Giallarbru) over the river Gjoll which leads to Helheim. Not finding much on Her so far.

I also see Hel as having a nature aspect. In modern times (especially for pagans) we have a romanticized view of nature. We see it as this sort of beautiful thing. Nature is beautiful, yes, but it is also dangerous, unfeeling and always renewing itself. I think of Hel having a nature aspect in the death of things to make room for the new. Animals die, rot in the earth to provide nutrients for new life. The forest fires that clear out the dead from the forest floor and enriches the soil for new growth. Death is a very important part of the cycle in Life. It is a necessity.

hel2

I do not by any means think I am any kind of expert on the Lady of Death.  I don’t really even have a working relationship with Her at the moment. I’m doing what I always do. Research.

Why am I including Her in the Ancestor series? Because She is the one that cares for Them.

There is this romanticized notion in the Heathen community that we all want to go to Valhalla. That really isn’t realistic, especially in modern times. Our ancestors, before Christianization (which the Christian ancestors are a different story and will be touched on a later post) didn’t all die in battle and most likely didn’t get claimed by a certain God to take to Their hall. That leaves only Helheim, where Hel cares for them.

Here is a little information. This will probably be updated as I find out more, still in early stages of research. Keep in mind I didn’t create this list.

  • Colors: Black, white
  • Symbols: Skull, red roses, dried roses, bones, “Day of the Dead”-type skeleton images
  • Altar suggestions: Skulls, skeleton images, grave rubbings, skeletal hands, bones, dried roses, black shrouds, black mirror, black and white candles, plantain leaves, rue, wormwood, yarrow, yew, the runes Ear (sometimes combined with Raido for the Helroad) and Hagalaz, sometimes Othala. It is not uncommon for a Hel altar to be an ancestor harrow as well, with pictures of and offerings to one’s own beloved Dead.
  • Food and drink: Tea, good wine, apples (Hel has an orchard of Her own); meat, bread, soup, meals that your ancestors would have liked, blood; good quality chocolate, coffee beans. Hel likes dried, well-preserved flowers, especially dried roses. She also likes blood, as do all the Death deities. Some people offer her tea, or food that can sit on an altar and rot. (Don’t take it away until it is entirely desiccated, no matter what happens.) Don’t approach her altar with an unhealthy attitude toward death and decay.

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When I am finally able to set up my Ancestor Altar (money is the issue on buying stuff for it), Hel will definitely have a special place.

She will be touched on more as I go through this series, and I maybe even start up a relationship with Her.

I’ve met Her once. I see her as being half pale and half blue-black (think frostbite), the pale half having darker dirty blonde hair and the blue-black half with almost white hair. She is quite beautiful, but forces you to look at the not so beautiful aspects of Death right in the face.

If any of you have more information (or if anything you see here is inaccurate) please share.

Hail the Goddess of the Dead.

Until next time loves!

Ancestors- Beginning

“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children”
Philip Carr-Gomm

Finally getting around to start my research on ancestor work. When it rains it pours around here.

I’m starting off by really looking into Ancestor Veneration in general in Heathen traditions.

Here is a nice post by the lovely Cara Freyasdaughter, she seems to be starting down the same path I am though I definitely don’t have the resources to travel to a country of my ancestors.

Much like with Cara, my family doesn’t pay much attention to culture identity or our history. My father’s side is a bit more interested (remember the book I had mentioned before with the Viking long ship on the cover) but not by too terribly much. I have no real family traditions that have been passed down, no recipes, nada. My sister’s (on my father’s side) passing mention of the family book got me researching Heathenry (and then a certain hammer busted the door down) which in turn got me more interested in looking at my own ancestors.

I’m working on digging into my family tree. I have a strong feeling it will take quite some time. While I’m doing that, I’ll be touching on what I already know (when I get the chance). I’ll start talking about actually doing ancestor work and well as discussing some of the history and symbols of my own heritage.

For the moment I will leave you with another thing to read. This is a bit more academic and focuses on the Disir.

Also keep this in mind. We are the future ancestors.

Until next time loves. Happy Thor’s day!